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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 38 min 14 sec ago

Oil Spill Drill Conducted Near Teller

Mon, 2014-07-21 16:02

Chadux officials set a skimmer down current from the Teller tank farm, near fish-racks and other subsistence equipment. (Photo by: Zachariah Hughes – KNOM)

Even as marine traffic increases past the Bering Strait, no one knows how well an oil spill could be cleaned up in the case of an accident. Stakeholders traveled to the region last week to conduct the region’s first spill response exercise, and learn more about the challenges posed.

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John Katula oversees marine vessels with the Alaska Department of Conservation, one of the agencies that organized a cleanup drill last Wednesday in the community of Teller, near Nome.

“We’ve got seven of the plan holders that actually move oil in through this area involved in the exercise, so that we can make sure that if there was a spill from any of the operators that we were prepared and that our contingency plans were designed correctly to respond to any spill,” Katula said, standing on the rocky spit connecting Teller with Brevig Mission as the tide came in.

It’s DEC’s job to decide whether fuel shippers are prepared to handle an accident. In the Bering Strait, companies that barge fuel to small communities up and down the coast don’t expect to be the ones actually cleaning up oil. Instead, they contract with Alaska Chadux, an Oil Spill Response Organization.

Colin Daugherty manages cleanup response for Chadux and helped deploy 30-foot-long strips of orange boom (the floating tubes that help collect oil) along the shore of Teller’s inner-harbor, near the tank farm.

Part of the drill included deploying 30-foot long strips of orange boom. (Photo by: Zarariah Hughes – KNOM)

“We brought everything to enact a Geographical Response Plan to protect Grantley Harbor,” Daugherty explained, equipment humming nearby. “The plan calls for 3600 feet of boom. So we brought two containers of boom and anchors and line. And this is equipment that’s staged in Nome. So this is permanently here for this type of event.”

Part of the drill was testing how long it took for a convoy with equipment to drive the 72 miles from Nome to Teller. Organizers were interested in small but vital questions like that because no oil spill response plan for the Bering Strait has been tested in the field. And with rough water and wind speeds around 20 miles per hour, the crew was forced to adjust the day’s original goals.

“I don’t think we’d know how to do this in good weather,” Daugherty said. “It’s usually bad weather that causes an incident. So we came here this morning and adapted—we didn’t want to get anybody hurt over this, over a training exercise. So we just went to something a little bit less weather affected by working the inner harbor.”

But rough weather is part of what Chadux and others agencies want to learn more about as they plan for expanded commercial activity in the Bering Strait.

DEC will sort through the data they collected with Chadux and revise plans that are on the books. Chadux, like most other Oil Spill Response Organizations working in Alaska has most of its equipment and personnel in Anchorage. They rely on storing caches of equipment in hub communities like Nome that can be deployed relatively quickly in case of an accident. Chadux general manager Matthew Melton said getting to actually see and experience conditions is essential, because even basic things like roads present challenges.

“That was something that didn’t occur to me until I was driving the road yesterday,” Melton summed up at a debrief Thursday morning over breakfast between all the drill’s participants. “If it was rainy and washed out and we put 20, 30 tractor-trailers going back and forth on their trips, that road’s gonna get beat up.”

Another point repeatedly raised is the need to work more closely with Bering Strait residents, Jacob Okbiok works for the Teller Native Fill business, and described the reason more residents did not turn out to observe the drill.

“It’s usually around this time of year when everybody’s at camp, and maybe around first of August is usually everybody comes back,” Okbiak said in between examining equipment staged on the beach and helping pack it away. “It’s kind of, you could say [an] oddish time to chose to do an oil spill response.”

Those are the kinds of things you might not know if you’ve never been to the region.

Strings of plastic boom fabric were set early Wednesday morning by the Inner Harbor, and on the rocky spit connecting Teller with fish camps at nearby Brevig Mission, which was partially washed out during storms last fall. (Photo by: Zachariah Hughes – KNOM)

The exercise in Teller did not answer many questions about how an oil spill in one of the most remote parts of the state will be handled. For example, while Teller has a road for rigs to haul equipment to, the rest of the 14 communities in the region do not. And though weather was rough enough to scramble plans for organizers, the water was ice-free with decent visibility–conditions that cannot be counted on most of the year.

However everyone involved in the drill, from fuel company reps to subsistence advocates, agreed this was an important first step in what needs to be a longer process.



Categories: Alaska News

Sunday night shoot spree results in no injuries

Mon, 2014-07-21 15:58

Few details are available about Sunday’s 3 am drive-by shooting in Anchorage near 47th Avenue and Arctic Blvd.  An Anchorage party bus with 17 people inside was shot 10 times by at least four different guns. Bullets entered through the back window and the body of the 28-passenger vehicle. No one was injured.

Left: Markers showing where APD found bullet casings.
Right: Bullet holes in the Anchorage Limo and Sedan vehicle.
Photos courtesy of APD.

The police contacted the driver about three and half miles away near Lake Otis and Northern Lights. All of but one of the occupants had fled when the bus stopped. The remaining witness told police she didn’t know why anyone would shoot at the bus. They had been at Al’s Alaska Inn for about two hours before the shooting. She said she didn’t know about any fights there.

Police are still trying to identify the shooters and locate people from the bus. They photographed and collected more than 30 shell casings at the scene. They say incidents like this are very rare.

Categories: Alaska News

Campaign Profile: Sullivan’s “Amazing Credentials”

Mon, 2014-07-21 14:45

Republican U.S Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan

As a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Dan Sullivan has a bucket of advantages. He married into an acclaimed Athabascan family. His own family, back in Cleveland, are six-figure donors to Republicans in high places. One of his biggest assets, though, is his resume.

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Degrees from Harvard and Georgetown. Positions in the White House and State Department. And, interspersed throughout, service as infantry officer in the Marines. Gov. Sarah Palin gushed about his “amazing credentials” just before she appointed him Alaska Attorney General. Topping off his C.V.: three years as Alaska’s Natural Resources Commissioner.

His resume is part of what impresses Irene Rowan, who has worked on Alaska Native issues since the 1960s and is close to Sullivan’s wife.

“I think he’ll do very well for Alaska in Washington,” she says. “He has the drive, he has knowledge of all the Alaska issues, and he knows how to move around in the system of Washington DC.”

Sullivan deploys his resume to strategic advantage. He says he’s the only candidate in the race who has a real record of fighting the policies of the Obama administration.

“Fighting the federal government’s over-reach, taking it to the Obama administration,” he said on KOAN recently. “A lot of candidates love to talk about that. I’ve had the honor of being in the arena, battling these guys.”

It’s a candidate’s job to sell his accomplishments.  But political opponents say his resume has thin spots and complain he oversells himself. Sullivan, for instance, often says he was one of the lead AGs in the country to challenge the legality of “Obamacare.”

“In terms of credibility candidates, I’m the one who sat down, the one who sued on this, the one who laid out a lot of the intellectual framework of why we thought (the Affordable Care Act) was unconstitutional,” he said.

Sullivan’s name is on a 2010 memo to Gov. Sean Parnell analyzing the legality of the Affordable Care Act.  But Alaska didn’t file its own challenge.  It attached its name to a lawsuit out of Florida, after 20 states were on already board. It’s much the same with the dragon all the Republican candidates pledge to slay – the EPA.

“We won a case that I brought, originally brought, just three days ago,” he said at a Republican debate in June. “In the U.S. Supreme Court! With the EPA! Putting them in their place.”

The case was about the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which, actually the Supreme Court left intact, at least for major smokestacks. Alaska tagged on to a case filed previously filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These days Sullivan says he brought the case, but a press release from Sullivan’s time as AG strikes a softer tone. It quotes Sullivan saying the state’s involvement began in 2003 – years before Sullivan became attorney general.

As AG and later as DNR commissioner, Sullivan frequently cited his professional history during lobbying visits in Washington, says Russ Kelly. Kelly was an associate director of Gov. Parnell’s Washington, D.C. office and was assigned on several occasions to shadow Sullivan as he made the rounds of congressional offices.

“I was disappointed,” says Kelly. “I didn’t think the meetings went well. I didn’t think they were productive.”

After one trip, Kelly wrote a long memo to top Parnell staffers critiquing Sullivan’s work. It was recently emailed anonymously to APRN. Kelly, who had a bad break with the Parnell Administration, says he doesn’t know who’s distributing it. He says he wrote it because he felt a duty to report what he’d seen of Sullivan’s presentations on Capitol Hill.

“I was concerned that when you go into these offices and you don’t make the right impression and you don’t have substance to share, then you’re at risk of burning bridges and hurting relationships for the future,” he says.

In the 2011 memo, Kelly says in most offices, Sullivan spent too much time reciting his resume and basic facts about Alaska, even when, in Kelly’s opinion, the situation called for more complex answers.

But Kelly’s memo says Sullivan made good use of his connections, particularly with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, with whom he exchanged family news. Sullivan has connections across Washington, but his link to Sen. Portman is especially valuable. Portman’s the chief fundraiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, an arm of the party. Over the years, Portman and his leadership fund have received tens of thousands of dollars from Sullivan relatives in Ohio and employees of RPM International. That’s the paint company Sullivan’s grandfather founded and his brother Frank now runs. The NRSC is supposed to remain neutral in a Republican primary, but Portman’s presence at a Sullivan fundraiser on Capitol Hill last fall helped raise his profile among national donors.

So far, Sullivan has raised $3.8 million, nearly 90% of it from out of state. He’s keeping pace with Sen. Mark Begich – quite a feat for a first-time candidate. Meanwhile, two Sullivan brothers and an ex-RPM board member have paid $125,000 to an independent campaign called Alaska’s Energy/America’s Values that’s dedicated to promoting Sullivan.

Sullivan brushes off questions about how his family’s political contacts may have helped him raise money from national groups.

“We worked hard to get in front of those groups and make our case that we were the strongest candidate to win this primary, win this race,” Sullivan says.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has run a TV ad promoting Sullivan. Sullivan’s brother Frank sits on the board of the U.S. Chamber. When pressed about any help his brother may have provided, Sullivan sticks to generalities.

“There’s been a lot of people who’ve been helpful …. A lot of people who have been helpful who care about America,” he said.

One of the gems of Sullivan’s resume is his military service. Sullivan was a full-time Marine for four years. As a reservist, he spent all of 2005 as staff to the general in charge of the entire Middle East.

“Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan – wherever he was …. I was with him,” he says.

Last year, Sullivan was called up for six weeks to Afghanistan, where he says he focused on dismantling terrorist networks. As an infantry officer, Sullivan is trained to “kick in doors and kill bad guys,” as he put it to a conservative group in Wasilla, according the Anchorage Daily News.  While rival Republican Joe Miller often calls himself a “combat vet,” that’s one thing Sullivan acknowledges is not on his resume.

“I do not consider myself combat in terms of kicking in doors, shooting, being shot at. I’m an infantry officer. I was a recon officer. I’ve spent years up here training hundreds of Alaskans to be recon officers,” he says.

Like Republican opponent Mead Treadwell, Sullivan has a history on the climate change question. These days, Sullivan sounds like a skeptic: “The consensus in the scientific community on what’s going on with regard to man-made global climate change is still out.”

But in 2007, as an assistant secretary of State, he flew to Germany to help sell the Bush climate initiative. At a press conference in Berlin, he insisted to a room of doubtful reporters that the administration was serious about helping meet UN targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

“Our goal, our stated goal, has been to slow, stop and reduce emissions,” Sullivan told them, according to the State Department transcript.

Sullivan says he thinks the scientific consensus on climate change has weakened since then.

Categories: Alaska News

EPA Rolls Out Proposed Restrictions on the Pebble Mine

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:14

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during a visit to Dillingham. (Credit Jason Sear)

The EPA has released the details of how they plan to use the Clean Water Act to put in place protections in Bristol Bay from the possible negative impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Supreme Court Affirms Tribal Court Jurisdiction

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:13

The Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision today in a long running tribal court jurisdiction case. The case stems from a Minto tribal court decision that terminated parental rights. The case stems from a Minto tribal court decision that terminated parental rights. The father, Edward Parks, was not a Minto tribal member, so he claimed the court did not have authority over him. He tried to take the case to state court and bypass tribal appellate court saying he was not allowed oral presentation of his argument. Natalie Landreth is an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, the legal organization that defended the adoptive parents against the biological father’s challenge. She says there were two areas of legal clarity provided in the decision. The first is that a plaintiff must exhaust the appellate process in tribal court before taking a challenge to state court.

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Landreth: The second thing is it didn’t adopt what the state vigorously argued along with Mr. Parks which was this idea that you have to be allowed to present complex things in an oral argument format, saying tribal courts have to look like state courts, the court rejected that, saying that’s not the case.

What about the issue of tribal court authority over another tribal member not from that community. Was that settled in this decision or is that still out there?

 Landreth: I think that will depend on circumstances of cases where you might have an odd fact pattern, but this decision does clearly says, the jurisdiction is over that child. If that child is a tribal member of that tribe, then that tribal court has jurisdiction. That isn’t ground breaking, they cited the other Alaska tribal court case we’ve had in the last couple of years , which was the Kaltag decision, Judge Burgess said exactly the same thing, so again they did make a decision on that, but they’re not going out on a limb. They’re not doing something divergent from a court simply following the law.

Does this provide more clarity for how the state should see tribal courts and their jurisdiction?

Landreth: Absolutely.  Each one of these cases that we’ve been working on for years, is a separate step forward, a different piece of the puzzle which says what we’ve been advocating all along, which is that these courts do have authority to adjudicate children’s cases. There may be 31 flavors of that but that basic premise has not changed and this case is another piece of that puzzle.

Natalie Landreth is an attorney with NARF.

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty says the decision was not far reaching.

Geraghty: The court decided the case on fairly narrow grounds, that Mr. Parks had not exhausted his tribal court remedies. So I think we’ve learned something from the opinion and that is positive in the sense that litigants before tribal courts, need to avail themselves of all remedies and appeals before the tribal courts before they go to state courts.

When you say that this is a narrow decision, are you saying that in your mind it’s not settled law then that the tribal courts have authority beyond their immediate tribal members?

Geraghty: That question was not decided. Which was did the tribal court have jurisdiction over Mr. Parks, a non-member who had never lived or resided in Minto. You can read some things in the court’s opinion but ultimately it did not reach that issue, which is the one the state was weighing in on, when we intervened.

Why is it seen as an important fight for the state to challenge tribal court authority givien the problems in rural Alaska and the need for help in administrating justice in tribal communities. What’s the long range concern about tribal authority that keeps the state arguing against some of these tribal court decisions?

Geraghty:  Well, I think….Mr. Parks case was terminating his parental rights. That’s not in the grand scheme of things probably a public safety issue. We do mean to make progress on that front and we’re not challenging tribal court authority on that front, we’re looking for ways to work with them to improve public safety. The case of Mr. Parks, when you’re dealing with family issues that are under the Indian Child Welfare Act. The issues, like Mr. Parks, they’re citizens of Alaska. They’re guaranteed certain rights under the constitution of our state. And when they go to state court claiming that those rights have been trampled or not observed, they’ve not received due process, yes, I take an interest in those.

Michael Geraghty is Alaska’s Attorney General.

Categories: Alaska News

State Confirms Rabies in Bat in Southeast Alaska

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:12

State officials have confirmed rabies in a bat in Southeast Alaska.

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The state health department said biologists on Prince of Wales Island last Sunday trapped several Keen’s myotis bats, one of which was acting more aggressively and seemed possibly sick. It was euthanized and tested for rabies. The test came back positive Thursday.
The two prior cases of confirmed rabies in bats in Alaska were in 1993 and 2006, both in Southeast.

Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state, says Alaska doesn’t have a huge bat population. She says the department wants to ensure anyone who may have been bitten by a bat doesn’t discount their possible risk of exposure.

Categories: Alaska News

Diomede Helicopter Service Resumes

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:11

Little Diomede sits on the border of Russia and the United States. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm, August 25 2008.

The helicopter to Diomede is flying today. The first flight to the island took off around 11 o’clock Friday morning after a new contract was formally signed by Erickson Aviation, Kawerak and Federal Department of Transportation officials Thursday.

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The helicopter to Diomede flew Friday morning at 11 a.m., the first flight to the remote Bering Sea island since a contract for service that uses state and federal funding lapsed at the end of June.

A new contract was formally signed Thursday by Erickson Aviation, regional nonprofit Kawerak, and federal Department of Transportation officials. Despite the contract ending June 30, mail deliveries by Erickson have continued.

“All the signatures, all the final ones came through yesterday, and as soon as I got back, there was a phone message for me and a couple emails saying go ahead, get going,” said Mike Kutbya, the Nome-based pilot and manager for Erickson Aviation. “Soon as I got the aircraft tied down, I called people that had missed flights over the last couple of weeks and got a flight ready to go today.”

The flight will continue its customary route, leaving from Nome and heading roughly 140 miles northwest toward Little Diomede. As in the past, weather and the number of passengers may necessitate an additional stopover at the community of Wales, where passengers can also board the helicopter and fly to Diomede. Tickets between Nome and Diomede remain $200 one-way; one-way tickets between Wales and Diomede are $100.

The federal Department of Transportation and Kawerak worked since May to hammer out a new contract, which leverages nearly $340,000 to keep the service running under the Essential Air Service program set up in 1978. Evergreen was the company that ran flights to Diomede in 2012 and 2013. Erickson eventually bought Evergreen, but a proposal from Erickson for the 2014 contract wasn’t delivered until June 7. That delayed input and approval from Diomede residents, federal DOT officials, and Kawerak until the end of June.

The new contract is now signed by all parties. As of Friday July 18, Kutyba said Erickson is resuming flights twice a week to the island—passenger service on Monday, weather permitting, with mail service on Wednesdays. Kutyba said Friday’s flight was to make up for those who have been waiting for weeks to return to the island.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor Signs Bill in Bethel to Ease Autopsy Burden

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:10

Governor Parnell signs HB 301, which eases the burdens on families for required autopsies. L to R: Alaska Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Zientek, Rep. Bob Herron, Governor Sean Parnell, YKHC President and CEO Dan Winkelman, and Senator Lyman Hoffman. (Photo by Dean Swope, KYUK – Bethel)

Governor Sean Parnell was in Bethel Thursday to sign a bill intended to help rural families navigate the process of having an autopsy done hundreds of miles away in Anchorage.

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When someone in western Alaska dies in suspicious or unusual circumstances, the state is required to conduct an autopsy or exam in Anchorage. Sometimes in that time of stress, family members are making decisions without good information. In a packed room of regional leaders at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation Thursday, Governor Parnell signed a bill into law intended to make that stressful time easier.

“This is about dignity and respect for our lost loved ones, as well as the dignity and respect of the families that are involved,” said Parnell.

The bill makes explicit that families can choose to have the body returned directly to them, instead of a funeral home. Bethel Representative Bob Herron sponsored the bill.

“It’s hard on the family because they want closure, they want it done right. And in the past, it’s to no fault of anybody, but the state appeared to be promoting the funeral home business,” said Herron.

Part of that was the documentation for families, which has been changed. Supporters cite stories of people getting stuck with large funeral home bills they couldn’t pay. That’s led to some funeral homes holding the body hostage until they get paid.

Nicholas Hoover is the Social Services Director for Association of Village Council Presidents and works with families in need. He says good communication hasn’t always happened in the past and points to a recent 7-thousand dollar funeral home bill.

“If a family isn’t prepared, they can tack on services like embalming, it’s toxic, and it’s not traditional custom to have a body embalmed. Cosmetics is another…traditionally the family is the one who dresses the body and prepares it for a funeral,” said Hoover.

The law also allows for the possibility of some exams to be done outside of urban areas in a hub like Bethel with video equipment. That could cut down on the approximately 900 cases the medical examiners see annually.

Dr. Gary Zientek is Alaska’s Chief Medical Examiner. He says there are no plans yet to establish a rural examination program and the requirements for a facility and training are steep.

“…Photographs and fingerprints, we have to do a lot of documentation it would be a lot of training. It would probably be possible, but it requires a lot of work before we do that,” said Zientek.

The law would pay for embalming if required by an air carrier and could return the body to places besides the exact location of the death. The Governor also signed resolutions in support of Alaska’s role in national arctic policy and of Recover Alaska’s efforts to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. He spoke at the Bethel Chamber of Commerce.

Categories: Alaska News

Fort Yukon Plans New Landfill to Improve Safety, Facilitate More Recycling

Fri, 2014-07-18 17:09

The City of Ft. Yukon plans to build a new landfill. The project is aimed at improving safety and recycling some of the community’s waste stream.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 18, 2014

Fri, 2014-07-18 16:52

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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EPA Rolls Out Proposed Restrictions on the Pebble Mine

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The EPA has released the details of how they plan to use the Clean Water Act to put in place protections in Bristol Bay from the possible negative impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine.

Alaska Supreme Court Affirms Tribal Court Jurisdiction

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision today in a long running tribal court jurisdiction case. The case stems from a Minto tribal court decision that terminated parental rights.

State Confirms Rabies in Bat in Southeast Alaska

The Associated Press

State officials have confirmed rabies in a bat in southeast Alaska.

Diomede Helicopter Service Resumes

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The helicopter to Diomede is flying today. The first flight to the island took off around 11 o’clock Friday morning after a new contract was formally signed by Erickson Aviation, Kawerak and Federal Department of Transportation officials Thursday.

Governor Signs Bill in Bethel to Ease Autopsy Burden

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Governor Sean Parnell was in Bethel Thursday to sign a bill intended to help rural families navigate the process of having an autopsy done hundreds of miles away in Anchorage.

Fort Yukon Plans New Landfill to Improve Safety, Facilitate More Recycling

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The City of Ft. Yukon plans to build a new landfill. The project is aimed at improving safety and recycling some of the community’s waste stream.

AK: Weaving

Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau

It has long been forbidden for men to weave in the Chilkat tradition, but Tlingit artist Ricky Tagaban is an exception. Using techniques practiced for thousands of years, Tagaban creates his trademark iPhone bags, hair clips, and head bands, putting a modern spin on an ancient tradition.

300 Villages: Dry Creek

This week we’re heading to the tiny Interior village of Dry Creek. Tom Nerbonne runs a saw mill in Dry Creek.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Dry Creek

Fri, 2014-07-18 15:05

This week we’re heading to the tiny Interior village of Dry Creek. Tom Nerbonne runs a saw mill in Dry Creek.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Weaving

Fri, 2014-07-18 15:03

Ricky Tagaban holds a Chilkat headband he made. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau)

It has long been forbidden for men to weave in the Chilkat tradition, but Tlingit artist Ricky Tagaban is an exception. Using techniques practiced for thousands of years, Tagaban creates his trademark iPhone bags, hair clips, and head bands, putting a modern spin on an ancient tradition.

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In his living room overlooking the Gastineau Channel in Juneau, Ricky Tagaban is spinning wool and wet cedar bark together on moose hide.

Ricky Tagaban models one of his headbands in his living room. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau)

The process joins the fibers together creating something called warp which will give Tagaban’s bags their structure. With the big Celebration cultural event just a few days away, Tagaban still has several commissions left to fulfil. Though his finished pieces vary in size and intricacy, they all begin the same way – as cedar bark softening in a crockpot.

“Cooking it is kind of the longest and then I soak the bark in hot water and spin it with the wool and I have to wash it and groom it – and that part’s called grooming your balls and you have to go along and cut all the fluff,” Tagaban said. “And that’s all before weaving.”

Ricky Tagaban spins wool and cedar bark on a moose hide pad to make warp for his pieces. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau)

Tagaban is weaving in the Chilkat tradition. The textile technique is passed down through Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian families and there are strict rules guiding its practice. Created on an upright loom, Chilkat use abstract shapes and patterns inspired by nature.

Much of what’s known about Chilkat came from the late master weaver Jennie Thlunaut

Juneau weaver Lily Hudson Hope has been practicing both Ravenstail and later Chilkat weaving since she was a teenager.

“I feel that the traditions and the rules and taboos are set there, and they’re there to protect us,” Hope said.

One of the taboos in Chilkat is to never place a human hand in designs. Another is to always cover up your work after you’re finished. But the one that applies to Tagaban is that men can’t weave.

But Hope says there is one exception.

Ricky Tagaban pours out a crock pot that’s been cooking cedar bark for a week. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau)

“We don’t know why it started or where it started, but when Jennie was teaching my mother and other weavers in 1986, she would scream – ‘we don’t teach men, I don’t teach men, we don’t teach men,’” Hope said. “And then she made the exception that if they’re funny, and she said, ‘If they’re funny, I teach them.’ They’re funny in the way that they’re two spirited.”

By two spirited, Hope means gay. In the summer of 2010 Tagaban was invited to learn from Thlunaut’s apprentice and Hope’s mother, Clarissa Rizal because he fit the tradition, and was identified as someone who could carry it forward.

“I was asked to learn this style of weaving because of my sexual orientation and because it’s a Native art form so learning this and practicing it and really identifying as a weaver had really reconciled my Nativeness and my gayness,” Tagaban said.

A single unfinished Chilkat legging Ricky Tagaban is finishing up for Celebration. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau)

Since learning Chilkat, Tagaban’s works have become more elaborate and experimental, incorporating more modern materials like shot gun shells. This spring Tagaban was awarded his second Rasmuson grant and one of his iPhone bags appeared on the Red Carpet in Los Angeles at the GLAAD Media awards.

Hope thinks it’s exciting to see the way Tagaban has brought Chilkat to new audiences.

“He’s taken an ancient art form and put it in the hands of the masses in a way that’s revolutionary,” Hope said. “We don’t have to wait for Celebration or cultural gatherings to share our art form with other people.”

Juneau Empire reporter Melissa Griffiths models the Chilkat bag she wore on the Red Carpet at the GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angelos. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau)

“It’s not just for Tlingit people or just for Haidas or Tsimshian. If you like this and you want to wear this, come have some. Come get it.”

Back at Tagaban’s home studio, he lets me try on a pair of leggings decorated by deer hooves. They’re a work in progress, an old world object with a twist. Embedded in the traditional Chilkat pattern is a small patch of geometric Ravenstail weaving, a hybrid design that’s beginning to gain acceptance in Chilkat weaving.

For Tagaban, harmonizing both aspects, the modern and traditional is important.

“It’s cool to have a really specialized skill but it’s also a lot of pressure,” Tagaban said. “It’s not like we’re saving it, it’s just that we’re holding onto it while we’re here.”

The leggings are almost finished.  Tagaban just has to sew sea otter fur to the tops before he can see them on a dancer at Celebration.

Categories: Alaska News

The Newly-Named ‘Alaska Dispatch News’

Fri, 2014-07-18 12:00

Not very many years ago it was pretty easy to know how the publisher of a newspaper felt about things. All you had to do was look at the editorial
page. But when the Anchorage Daily News was acquired by the Alaska Dispatch, it stopped running its own editorials.  Now it is changing its name, and the managers of the Alaska Dispatch News will be taking questions from Alaskans across the state.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network


  • Alice Rogoff, Majority Owner
  • Tony Hopfinger, President and Executive Editor
  • Callers Statewide


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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Edition: Friday, July 18, 2014

Fri, 2014-07-18 07:20

Inmate deaths lead to hearing before lawmakers. The woes of Buccaneer Energy. The fight over who is responsible for the North Pole suloflane spill continues. The evolution of Alaska oil taxes. The North Slope haul road is in trouble from “a moving mass of frozen debris.” An update on the US Senate race. A successful missile test over the Pacific increases the likelihood the Defense Department will send more missiles to Fort Greely. Headline; “Ex-Guard Chief Moves to Arctic Frontline.” Who is he?

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HOST: Michael Carey


  • Dermot Cole, Alaska Dispatch/ADN.
  • Paul Jenkins, Anchorage Daily Planet
  • Tim Bradner, Alaska Journal of Commerce

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday July 18 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, July 19 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday July 19  at 4:30 PM.

Categories: Alaska News

NASA Testing Arctic Sea Ice Monitoring Technology With High-Flying Ex-Spy Plane

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:20

NASA is flying two Airborne Science ER-2 aircraft out of Fairbanks to test equipment to be used to monitor Arctic sea ice. (Credit NASA)

NASA is piloting a mission out of Fairbanks with a specialized plane that can fly high enough to test technology destined for satellite applications.

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Categories: Alaska News

Report Investigates Coal Dust Hazards In Seward

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:19

Alaska Community Action on Toxics has issued a new report on the hazards of coal dust in Seward. The organization is recommending further monitoring, but city officials deny that local air quality is poor.

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Categories: Alaska News

Musk Ox Killed After Attacking Sled Dog

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:18

(Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome)

Living with wildlife isn’t always easy, as a recent incident with a musk ox attack in Kotzebue makes clear.

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Categories: Alaska News

In Transition: When a Family of Five Calls One Room Home

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:17

Corey MacDonald and his wife (not pictured) have three children – Miles, 7; Leland, 5; and Chloe, 4. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Juneau charity organization St. Vincent de Paul has a record high number of people staying in its transitional housing shelter. Usually, around 55 people live in the 26 units. At the moment, there are 66 occupants, almost half are children.

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Twelve-year-old Carrie McVey has been living in and out of transitional housing at St. Vincent de Paul for as long as she can remember.

“I’m used to calling St. Vincent’s home because I’ve been here most of the time,” Carries says.

She lives in unit 16 with her 16-year-old sister, 11-year-old brother and their parents.

“We’re all just living in one room. I’ve basically made my bed my own room, ‘cause I have to sleep on the bottom bunk. My brother sleeps in the top bunk and I can just tuck blankets in under my brother’s mattress.”

St. Vincent de Paul’s transitional shelter has 26 rooms. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

It’s like a little fort, she says.

Carrie’s father has a job at Goldbelt Security Services and her mother doesn’t work. During the school year, Carrie goes to Juneau Community Charter School. She’s open with her classmates about sometimes living in a shelter.

“‘Cause, like, some of my friends would ask if they could stay the night and I’d have to tell them no,” Carrie says.

There are more kids at the shelter than usual, she says, which means she actually has someone her age to hang out with. During the summer, Carrie visits the playground and wanders around the shelter.

“I like going in and hanging out with some of the other families ‘cause, you know, I know how they feel. Most of us just feel alone, like we have nowhere to go,” Carrie says.

She wants her family’s stay at St. Vincent’s to be what it’s supposed to be – transitional.

“I hope that we can get our own house that we can stay, for once. ‘Cause it seems like, you know, every year we move from one house and then back in here, and I’m getting tired of it,” Carrie says.

Carrie is one of 30 kids currently living at the shelter.

St. Vincent de Paul housing manager Tamee Martini says the high number of shelter occupants is driven by the number of kids. She says families at the shelter usually have one or two kids. At the moment, several families, like the McVeys, have three. A couple families have more.

“It’s sad to see a large family with children that are homeless for whatever reason. I mean, being homeless is sad for everybody, but those children deserve to be in a place of their own and not in a room. I just believe that they need more room to wander around and be kids and be outside poking at bugs or whatever, just being kids,” Martini says.

Individuals and families can stay in transitional housing for a maximum of two years, though most stay for a year. In order to get in, there’s an application and an average wait time of six months.

Rent is $525 a month. That gets a person or family a 400-square-foot room, which includes a bathroom with a toilet and sink; shared kitchen, laundry and shower facilities; as well as a kids’ play room and a computer area for job searching. The shelter stays clean through assigned chores.

Martini says residents are required to be actively looking for permanent housing and for work if they don’t have it.

“We do keep on top of that and have frequent conversations with the families about what are you’re doing to move on to a better situation. So even though it is probably the cheapest rent in town, especially for a family, it’s not something we want anybody to consider the last stop,” Martini says.

Cory MacDonald and his wife live at the shelter with their three kids.

“Miles is the oldest. He’s 7. Leland is 5 and little Chloe is 4,” says MacDonald.

This is the family’s second stint. They spent about six months in the shelter two years ago. This time, it’s been about three months. In between, they’ve lived with family in town. They haven’t lived as a whole family in their own place for three years.

Both parents have jobs, but MacDonald is away from the family for large chunks of time.

“I’ve been in and out of trouble, so I’m actually out on an ankle monitor here right now,” he explains.

For a tight space, the MacDonalds have made the room as homey as possible. The parents have a large bed in one corner. In another corner, Miles and Chloe share a homemade bunk bed, with Leland’s bed at the foot of it.

“Then we got our fridge and our entertainment system and we brought this freezer in here so we could store extra food and stuff. This is our little dining area set up,” MacDonald says.

The children look at home sitting on the beds, eating crackers and watching TV. But MacDonald doesn’t want this to be home. At least, not forever.

The plan is to stay at the shelter for up to a year while MacDonald and his wife save up enough money buy a home of their own.

Categories: Alaska News

FERC Nominee Approved Despite Murkowski’s Objection

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:16

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm two members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. One of those nominations was approved over the outspoken objection of Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, had two members confirmed on Tuesday.  Cheryl LaFleur, acting chair of the Commission, was approved in a 90-7 vote.  The vote for the second nominee, Norman Bay, had a much closer vote of 52-45.  The vote on Bay’s nomination fell along mostly partisan lines, though two Democrats did break ranks to vote with the Republican minority.  Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was one of the more vocal opponent’s of Norman Bay’s nomination.  Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy committee, says that part of her reason for opposing the nomination has to do with President Barack Obama’s intent to make Bay, a first time Commission member, the chairman of FERC.

Upper Valley residents may be familiar with FERC.  It is the agency that, among other things, licenses hydroelectric projects like the proposed Susitna dam.  That’s far from all there is, however. Senator Murkowski explained in a floor speech on Tuesday what else FERC does.

“In the energy world, FERC regulates ‘midstream everything.’ The Chairman is its CEO.  Under his or her leadership, FERC regulates: Interstate natural gas and oil pipelines; LNG import and export facilities; The sale of electricity at wholesale (and therefore the large and wholesale power markets that increasingly affect the affordability of all electric service, including at the retail level); The transmission of electricity in interstate commerce – basically the nation’s bulk power system, practically speaking, its high voltage transmission networks; The reliability of that bulk power system; The licensing of hydroelectric facilities and the safety of dams; And the list goes on and on. ”

Senator Murkowski contends that Norman Bay is not ready for the leadership role.  Bay has worked as an employee of FERC for five years.  Under a proposed compromise agreement, he would serve on the Commission for nine months before taking over as chair.  In the meantime, acting chair Cheryl LaFleur would head the agency.   Senator Murkowski says there isn’t certainty at this time as to what exactly would actually take place, however.

“You have to ask the question: What are its terms? Will Acting Chair LaFleur have the opportunity to serve fully and completely as chair? Will it be clear that Mr. Bay is not a ‘shadow chairman’ or ‘chairman-in-waiting’ during this crucial period? At a minimum, before we make a choice about who should lead FERC, the president owes senators a clear timeline of who will be in charge, and what powers will be given to her or him.”

Senator Murkowski also questioned the reason that Cheryl LaFleur, the Commission’s only female member, would be “demoted” in favor of someone who has never served.  She says that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated it has to do with changes to policies put in place by former FERC chair Jon Wellinghoff.

““One hint came from our Majority Leader, Sen. Reid. He recently told the Wall Street Journal that Ms. LaFleur ‘has done some stuff to do away with some of Wellinghoff’s stuff’ – without, of course, defining what ‘stuff’ that was, and without acknowledging that much of Mr. Wellinghoff’s ‘stuff’ was either controversial or incapable of withstanding legal challenge.”

Senator Murkowski also says that Norman Bay’s tenure as the head of FERC’s enforcement division has also raised questions.  In the past, she has said that she would not necessarily oppose Bay’s nomination were it not for President Obama’s plan to promote him to chair.  On Tuesday, however, she mentioned questions about Norman Bay’s handling of enforcement for FERC.  In the end, Bay’s nomination was confirmed, albeit not by a large margin.

While Senator Murkowski says she does not always agree with Acting FERC Chair Cheryl LaFleur, she does support her nomination to continue on the Commission.  Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Senator Murkowski, refers to LaFleur as a “liberal Democrat,”  but says that the Senator has been impressed by her ability to lead.

Who ultimately ends up as chair of FERC will be up to President Obama.

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake Rattles Yakutat; Felt in Whitehorse; No Damage Reported

Thu, 2014-07-17 17:15

A strong earthquake near the Canadian border rattled portions of Southern Alaska and the Yukon Territory just before 4 this morning.

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The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says the earthquake occurred at 3:49 a.m. Thursday in an area about 62 miles northwest of Yakutat.
(Credit U.S. Geological Survey)

Natasha Ruppert is a seismologists with the UAF Geophysical Institute’s Earthquake Information Center. She says the magnitude-6.0 quake was centered in a rugged area about 62 miles northwest of Yakutat.

“This earthquake was in a very remote mountainous region – glaciated region, Ruppert said.”

Ruppert says that’s a very seismically active area, with a very complex intersection of tectonic structures. She says the Earthquake Information Center routinely monitors hundreds of small quakes in the area every month.

“Most of the earthquakes are very small and not felt by anybody,” she said. “But once in a while, you have a significant earthquake that’s large enough to be felt by people in that area.”

The Associated Press says Yakutat-area residents reported feeling the temblor, and that reports also were received from as far east as Whitehorse, about 200 miles east of the epicenter.

Ruppert says the Earthquake Information Center didn’t get any reports from residents of the Interior.

Categories: Alaska News

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